New owners Kim Martinez and Cory Moreno sit in the renovated Ovens of Patagonia in front of the wide variety of baked goods on display. Photo by Robert Gay

The bakery case is still stocked with pastries and cookies. The same friendly staff is on hand to serve. But Kim Martinez, new owner of the Ovens of Patagonia, has already made some big changes. When you walk in, you’ll notice an open feeling, with heavy wooden tables spread around where there used to be merchandise displays. A large screen TV plays cooking shows or telenovelas. Customers are ordering lattes, and later on, lining up for brisket sandwiches (more on that later). And the cafe/bakery is now open at 4a.m. every day but Saturday and Sunday, when they open at 7a.m.

Martinez and Cory Moreno, her partner and fiancé, are both Patagonia area natives who, after years away, have returned home and are investing in the community. Martinez grew up on the PO Ranch in the San Rafael Valley, leaving town after high school to make a career in law enforcement. Her most recent position was as liaison to the U.S. Marshals at the Arizona State Prison in Florence. All the while, she delighted her coworkers with home-baked goods, so none were surprised to see her leave to follow her passion. 

Returning to Patagonia a year or so ago, Martinez applied for work as a baker at the Ovens. In the course of conversation, she told Bonnie Ollerton, the proprietor, that she dreamed she’d own a bakery one day. According to Ollerton, “When she added that her significant other wanted to start a barbecue restaurant, I was excited. My husband, Bob, and I had been thinking Patagonia could really use a barbecue place, but I didn’t have the desire to make that happen.” So Ollerton began to contemplate selling the business and Martinez started working on a plan to buy it. 

Moreno also graduated from Patagonia Union High School, then left the area after high school to join the U.S. Navy. Still a young man, he retired after 22 years in the Seabee – the Navy Construction Force – where he operated heavy equipment in countries from East Asia to South America. (And, Martinez points out, he retired as a Chief, the highest rank an enlisted soldier can hold.) After retirement, he earned a BS in Business from National University.

These two old friends started up a conversation, and then a relationship, when each was going through a divorce. Over time, they fell in love and moved back to Patagonia together. Moreno, who is the grandson of the late Rose (Posy) and Bill Piper, purchased his grandparents’ home on Blue Heaven Road, where the couple now lives. There he pursued his interest in smoking and barbecuing meats. Moreno says, “I’ve had a lot of help from my cousin, Nick Quiroga. There’s a lot to learn about smoking meats, and he really knows what he’s doing. He’s won barbecuing and smoking competitions.”

Now anyone who wonders how brisket suddenly showed up on the menu at the Ovens has their answer. The sandwich features a generous stack of smoked beef brisket, coleslaw, pickle and sauce on toasted bread, and if you don’t get there by mid-lunch hour, they may have run out. It’s been that popular, and the couple plans to expand that part of the business. They point out the brick area to the back of the patio where they hope, this spring, to put in a barbecue and smoker. (The Ollertons, who own the building, plan to upgrade the patio roof to handle the monsoon rains.) Future plans also include staying open for dinner and adding more “from scratch” items to the pastry case. Cakes are Martinez’s favorite medium for creativity. 

Moreno and Martinez said it’s been an incredible learning curve and they feel they are just getting their feet under them. 

“When Kim came home with the idea to buy the business, I was surprised, then excited, then nervous,” said Moreno. “Now we are constantly learning, about payroll, and supply ordering, and baking schedules… The list goes on.” 

Martinez added, “If it weren’t for our staff supporting us, we don’t know how we’d be here today. And the public has been really patient. We have loved serving people, and being part of a new vibe in town. New people moving here and visiting, and new businesses. The restaurants here also support each other really well. We’re always trading ideas.” 

As to the expanded hours, Martinez said she’s surprised that there are customers at that hour, but they come in. She mentioned one young man who works nights and lives alone. “I think he comes in just for company and conversation after his shift. We’re glad to be here for him. A lot of people seem to really enjoy visiting with us as they pick up their morning latte, pastry, or sandwich, or sit down to have breakfast.” 

This begins another chapter in the history of the Ovens of Patagonia, which was started decades ago by CiCi Finley and her daughter-in-law Fay, in the now-former Velvet Elvis location on Naugle Ave. There were several owners, then it was reopened in its current spot on McKeown Ave. by the Ollertons in 2013. Now the baton has passed again. As Bonnie Maclean described it, “When you’re ready to retire from your business, you are so glad to pass it to the next generation. They’ve moved back to town and had a dream to do this, right at the time that I was thinking about retiring. It worked out so well.” 

As for the couple themselves, who plan to marry sometime this year, Moreno summed it up for both of them. “After wanting so badly to go away when we were young, and having all the experiences we’ve had, we can’t think of anywhere else we’d rather be now.” 

Ovens of Patagonia, 277 McKeown Ave., Patagonia. Hours: Mon-Tues 4a.m.-3p.m., Wed-Fri 4a.m.- 6pm, Sat-Sun 7a.m.-6p.m.